The beauty industry puts a brave face on augmented reality in these times of Covid’s non-intervention

Dry, data-driven reports from financial institutions rarely stray into the territory of beauty columns for their language, but last week, analyzing card spending, Bank of Ireland’s Christian Pierce noted: Card spending at barbers and hairdressers was on the rise, not surprisingly since it had been closed for so long and pent-up demand was visible.

And while this service side of the beauty industry has faced challenges reopening after the lockdown, they pale in comparison to those the industry faces around the world rethinking the way beauty products and high end makeup can be sold when healthy sales depend so much on the face. face-to-face interaction, product sampling and touch.

In May 2020, just a few months after the Covid-19 hit, the McKinsey market research noted that sales of prestige beauty and makeup products had already fallen by 55% and 75% respectively from the figures of 2019. For women working from home and without social commitment, there was little point in maintaining or bothering with the faff, perhaps of a pre-Covid beauty routine.

However, there has been a business advantage, because over the past year several reports – it is a highly sought after consumer sector, not least because it is so valuable; McKinsey estimated the industry, on a global scale, to be worth $ 500 billion in 2019 – found sales of skin care products like lotions, moisturizers and more to increase as people stuck at home increased their “self-care” routines.

But besides the drop in demand for obvious foreclosure reasons, there has also been the closure of brick and mortar outlets. Glossy advertising campaigns create brands, but the real marketing, the one that rings the tills, happens at the counter. McKinsey said that in most major markets, in-store purchases accounted for as much as 85% of beauty product purchases before the pandemic. Even consumers who shop willingly online, such as American Millennials and Gen Z (born 1980 to 1996) made about 60% of their beauty product purchases in-store.

The non-essential retail business opened in Ireland earlier this month, but it’s not the beauty business as usual. Covid restrictions have changed prestige makeup counters, with many attempting an innovative in-person / digital hybrid model, with tightly controlled product sampling.

Beauty is the ultimate buy before trying the industry, sold as an “experience” rather than just a purchase.

While before Covid, it was not uncommon to see young women putting on full makeup for a night out while browsing multiple beauty counters, even lipsticks could be tried on – the same tube through countless sprouted lips, c ‘is gone now. All the high-end brands, such as Estée Lauder, Charlotte Tilbury, Emporio Armani, Yves Saint Laurent and Lancôme have long staffed their counters with experienced makeup professionals who, in a sales strategy focused on touch that seems to worlds now, could pre-Covid, do in-store demos and makeovers. Indeed, UK consultancy firm Stellar found, in a small sample study, that 85% of women would be “encouraged to buy a product” after an in-person demonstration – showing the challenges this industry faces online.

While a wide range of other consumer sectors – from clothing to housewares – have succeeded over the past decade in persuading consumers to buy online, breaking down previous barriers with comforts such as size guides. Accurate and easy return policies, consumer preference for touch, try and buy meant the makeup industry was lagging behind when it came to selling online. There is also the issue that once opened there are rarely product returns – usually not allowed for health and safety reasons – which is why I have two locking foundations purchased online, the one that makes me look like a Victorian consumer, the other like a gingerbread man, both now, dear, destined for the trash.

That said, as with other industries that have dramatically boosted their online presence in response to lockdowns, beauty has done so too and not just a simple online offering, but one that for several high-end brands, involved sophisticated interactive augmented reality.

L’Oréal, the global conglomerate whose vast portfolio extends from Lancôme and Giorgio Armani to the end of the luxury beauty salon in Maybelline and Garnier in pharmacies and supermarkets, had already bought Modiface in 2018, a company that creates augmented reality (AR) beauty apps, offering vivid digital options that allow customers to see what a product might look like on them. He has now extended this technology to stores where limited product testing is also available.

MAC also offers its online AR offering in stores, including Brown Thomas with its Virtual Try On, where consumers can upload their photos and “try out” over 800 items. Products can be tested under strict controls and virtual consultations with a pre-booked MAC makeup artist

And while these digital solutions, where buyers always have a real-world interaction with an assistant, show a high level of sophistication and investment, it’s hard to measure how much they’ll fill the void until Covid restrictions be completely lifted. They should at least encourage buyers to come back to the counters.

While other sectors have seen stranded shoppers pivot heavily online where some may remain – with all the predictions of death that come with it – consumer preference for beauty suggests that digital is not. yet a satisfying substitute for the sensory experience of trying and buying. Indeed, the chain of stores Next, which sells more than 200 beauty brands on its website, announced last year in the depths of the pandemic that it had taken over several vacant Debenhams stores in the UK to roll out its Beauty Hall concept. And the former House of Fraser premises in Dundrum will be taken over by Brown Thomas who will no doubt seek to replicate the vast destination beauty space that was a key attraction in South Dublin Mall.

Many boring economic reports have been brightened up with reference to cosmetics giant Leonard Lauder’s “lipstick index”, although his theory that even in a recession, women will still find the money for the little luxuries. of an expensive lipstick looks redundant now – face masks have seen for that.

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